Am I a Christian? Yes, no or maybe?
As for me, the words that might best describe my relationship to Christianity right now are embarrassed and sullen. Although a good friend laughed when she heard me say that.
I grew up in a mildly Presbyterian/Methodist and devotedly Masonic home. I pretty much moved into the “belief in God but not organized religion” phase as a teenager. In my college years (but not while I was actually at school), I had a profoundly mystical experience that left me groping in the dark for a way to respond to God speaking to me. What little I had learned about prayer in Sunday School or my Catholic university was not adequate. I was clear that God was talking to me, but not about Jesus or in the voice of Jesus or Christ or anyone personal. I may have been just a little bit cocky about this.
Fast forward over the next eight years or so: I took more classes in the theology department, on the Bible and social justice, religion and the feminine, mysticism. Found Quakers by a series of unlikely coincidences. Suddenly found myself able to rise before noon every Sunday. Met a fine young man, courted and married him in the same meetinghouse. Irregular but often enough minor mystical experiences in meeting and elsewhere.
I finally started taking Quakerism more seriously about five years ago. A few things that have been influential:
A number of Friends in my Meeting have set a good example, and made a lot of progress in this direction. Reading more early Friends. Stretching their understanding of the Bible. Experimenting with plainness. Giving up economic activities for more devotion to their religious activities.
Together with my family, I started going regularly to Yearly and Quarterly Meeting sessions.
In A Quaker Vision of Gospel Order, Lloyd Lee Wilson wrote that Friends will have to name the Giver of spiritual gifts.
On Friday, September 14, 2001, I went to a noontime mass celebrated by my boss, Fr. Louie Vitale, OFM. Even as the whole country rose up to shake a stick at Al Qaeda, I was reminded that the true message of Jesus was of peace, of forgiveness, of inclusion. First time I ever felt truly worshipful in a programmed worship gathering.
Quaker blogs, Liz Opp, Martin Kelley and especially Rich Accetta-Evans, have helped me understand that it was okay to make this journey – to be glad that Quakers were willing to have me from where I started, not expecting that Quakerism would change to come to me, but that I would grow to come to Quakerism.
Marcus Borg and his book, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, has helped me see that I could fit in institutionally and intellectually to be a Christian. Emergent church blogs are reinforcing that idea.
Ok. This is the hard part. In June of this year, I went to the meeting for worship on the last day of classes for my son’s school. Because the school’s temporary quarters didn’t have a big enough space for everyone, the meeting was held in the sanctuary of the Roman Catholic church across the street. (If meeting for worship can be held anywhere, why not a relatively plain and very inclusive Catholic church?) On this particular day, I was really distraught about something [irrelevant to this story] that had happened at the school, and I was trying to hold myself and the school board and a variety of others in the Light. [Here I sigh, swallow, look down at my feet, and back up to look you in the eye.] I saw, I experienced Jesus come down out of the big stained glass window across from me to put his arms around me and comfort me. I don’t want to say this. I think this is a cliché, and I am really embarrassed by the admission. I am really resisting what this might mean for me. But it is indescribably true.
For example, I am usually an enthusiastic person about anything new, and I do not want to be an enthusiastic Christian. How humiliating. I don’t want to be like the Christians I hear about in the news, in our government. Heaven forbid. So I am really resisting this leading. I feel like a sullen child that knows what I should be doing, I know what would be good for me, but I don’t want to. Why would I be so much more embarrassed to say I were a Christian than I ever would be to say I were not? I am so NOT like Paul who said “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” (Romans 1:16)
However, Borg and Father Louie and Father Joseph Wresinski and Elaine Pagels and John Dominic Crossan have all helped me to understand the teachings of Jesus in a way that resonates and makes sense. Lloyd Lee Wilson and Krista Barnard and Gregg Koskela and AJ Schwanz have helped me to see that I don’t have to be one of THOSE (literalist, Bible-thumping, G.W.B.) kind of Christians. But I know I could be, maybe I want to be a Quaker Christian.
I could be a Quaker Christian. It’s not easy, but it’s not absurd either.
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